RICHLAND — The long, narrow area covered in sagebrush almost 8 feet tall behind the Richland Goodwill store isnt much of a park.
There are no roads or paved paths. No playground equipment, not many open grassy areas. No trash cans or bathrooms, either.
The Columbia River Disc Golf Club saw its potential, though, and worked with the city to turn it into a place for area residents to enjoy.
Drive by James J. Lawless Park off Wellhouse Loop Road today and youll likely see small groups of people playing disc golf, an activity using Frisbee-like discs to complete a round of golf.
The sport that has been in the Tri-Cities since the Columbia Park course was built in 1987 continues to expand. Lawless Park, named for the Benton-Franklin Superior Court judge murdered in Pasco by a pipe bomb in 1974, has had many different proposed uses through the years, including as a BMX park, an off-leash dog park and as a skate park.
The Columbia River Disc Golf Club wanted to build a new course there to augment the ones at Columbia Park and Two Rivers Park in Finley.
After failing to find a good spot for a course at W.E. Johnson Park, which is west of the bypass highway in Richland, Parks and Recreation Manager Phil Pinard directed the group to Lawless.
Last month, after more than a year of proposals, park cleanup and course construction, their dream was realized.
We have a facility use agreement with the golf club for a year to make sure everything is running right, Pinard said. At the end of the year, we will evaluate and make sure that is a use we want to continue out there.
About 50 people attended a grand opening event at the park, said Josh Hopwood, 23, of Kennewick.
It was cool to be able to stand back and watch fellow golfers experience it for the first time, he said.
Hopwood, who helped build the course, is vice president of the CRDGC, which formed in October 2011. Besides building new courses, the group also plays host to tournaments, raises money for charities, holds weekly rounds for members and even has money pots for holes-in-one.
For people who havent done it, one (good) thing is to try and get involved with a club, said Randy Kirkpatrick, president of CRDGC. A lot of times, people just grab a disc or a Frisbee but there is no way you can play with a Frisbee, because it doesnt go anywhere.
The discs used are smaller, denser and fly much farther than traditional Frisbees. Getting hit by one could cause serious damage.
Disc golfers stock their bags with a variety of discs for different situations, much like ball golfers do with different types of clubs. A driver is lower profile than a putter, which makes it fly farther but its more liable to skip or roll after landing. Putters are more accurate but cant be thrown as far.
The course at Lawless is relatively short, measuring out at 4,912 feet. What it lacks in distance, though, it more than makes up for in elevation change and narrowness.
It is something Tri-Cities disc golfers dont have a chance to play, said Kyle Smart, 25, of Kennewick. Everything out here is just wide open. (Lawless) is very much a more technical (course), than just a throw as hard as you can toward the open basket (course).
The par-3, 245-foot second hole requires golfers to tee off through a narrow tree-lined opening. The 257-foot ninth hole features a 100-foot drop from the tee box.
And throughout there are giant sagebrush bushes, ready to eat your discs and create hazardous conditions.
For many disc golfers, though, that is part of the fun.
The flight of the disc is unbelievable, said Matt Bentz, 30, of Pasco. When you can make a Frisbee go where you want through this tree, around that tree and over and under those trees Ive always said, the flight is what keeps you going.
Bentz started playing the sport when he was 4, as his dad, Buddy, introduced him at a young age. Buddy Bentz was one of the first 6,000 Professional Disc Golf Association members. Matt is No. 40,334.
Disc golf enthusiasts say the biggest draw to the sport is the ease of access for people from all walks of life and all ages. Each round is free and startup costs are low.
Its not only good for building friendship, it also builds your competitive nature, said Jeremy Sauve, 25, of Kennewick. Its free, which is a huge thing for a lot of people.
I cant afford to go out and pay $35 or $40 for ball golfing. Its not really what I want to do.
Theres even a pro shop in the Tri-Cities. Island View Market & Deli on Columbia Park Trail across from Bateman Island converted part of its store into a Mecca of discs, ranging from $8 to $20.
I order about 150 new discs a week, said Justin Cargill, the son of Island View Markets owner, Lonnie. Its just blowing up, dude. There is always at least 20 cars at the course down there (Columbia Park). We try to support the sport any way possible to help it grow.
Stores like Big 5 Sporting Goods also sell starter kits, which includes a driver, mid-range disc and a putter.
For Dennis Rockwell, the low cost is not what drew him into the sport.
Using a cane to help him get up and down the hills at Lawless, the 65-year-old Finley man plays for the camaraderie.
He worked for more than 30 years for Benton County parks, eventually designing and building the disc golf course at Two Rivers Park.
Though hed never played the sport, he decided he didnt want the course to go to waste.
Id worked at Benton County parks going on 30 years and I was practically friendless, Rockwell said. No one ever talked to you, neighbors werent particularly friendly and I didnt know anybody.
I got over 100 friends now because of disc golf.
Rockwell helped come up with the general design of the Lawless course, before handing it over to his younger counterparts.
From there, Kirkpatrick and company submitted a proposal for the park to be turned into a course, got it approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission, and then went to work building the course.
They put together multiple work party outings to clean up trash, clear out dead trees, install the baskets which are made of metal fence posts buried in a bucket filled with cement, and covered by a basket with chains in it and build tee pads, where a golfer starts each hole. The tee pads are natural for now, as the course is a work in progress.
Im happy to see people in the park, said Pinard, who does not play the sport. Because obviously it is a use that there is a need for, just based on the number of people Ive seen the last few weekends.
They are out there being active, good stewards of the park and we are very happy they are in there.
COLUMBIA RIVER DISC GOLF CLUB
Cost: $15 per year
Benefits: 10 percent discount at Island View Market & Delis pro shop, qualification for clubs handicap league, savings on weekly doubles events
More info: www.crdiscgolf.com
Richland: James J. Lawless Park, between Wellsian Way and Thayer Drive behind the Goodwill
Kennewick: Columbia Park, near the west entrance
Finley: Two Rivers Park, off East Finley Road
Walla Walla: Fort Walla Walla, 1530 Dalles Military Road
Connell: Pioneer Park, 341 E. Birch
Grandview: Dykstra Park, 921 S. Euclid St.
College Place: Jenda Jones Memorial Course, 200 S.W. Academy Way. Open to the public on the weekend.
ADVICE FOR BEGINNERS
Never played disc golf, but want to? Let the experts from Columbia River Disc Golf Club give you a quick lesson on how to get involved.
Feel free to ask questions.
A lot of us golfers are really open people, Josh Hopwood said. We enjoy the sport. We dont mind giving advice and showing you the course. Heck, we might even play with you.
Dont get ahead of yourself.
You see a lot of people that come out and get real frustrated and quit, Hopwood said. It has a learning curve. It takes a while to get good at it.
Dont worry about getting all the tip-top stuff at first, Hopwood said. You can go to Big 5 and get some average drivers for cheap.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Grab some discs and hit up a field, or a football field, Randy Kirkpatrick said. Unlike ball golf, disc golf doesnt have a driving range. Work on throwing straight.